Gin EXPLORER (Paraglider Review)

The Gin EXPLORER is “a lightweight sports performance wing aimed at seasoned XC pilots who want to fly a wing that’s comfortable, responsive and performant.” Apparently, development of this wing began at the same time as the Gin Carrera, but as it pursued a lightweight philosophy, the design took another direction, and resulted in a lengthy development and testing phase.

I’m not used to such a light wing (3.9kg in the S size with standard risers) and having had a break from flying during the winter months, I was out of practice when I first flew it in January. So it’s no surprise that I cocked up my first few launches. The wing came up a bit fast and tips tucked.

After a bit of practice, I adjusted to the wing, and found it easier and easier to manage. It has a very positive opening behaviour even in light forward launches with deliberately poor layout. The Explorer just wants to fly. It requires more piloting on the ground than the Niviuk Ikuma I had switched over from: it’s a bit more challenging in changeable wind direction. The speed it comes up on launch reminds me of my Skywalk Chili 3, although the Gin Explorer is easier to handle because of its smaller surface area, lighter weight (less inertia makes it easier to stop), and the brakes aren’t so long. The Explorer comes up with a ‘sporty, fast’ character, but it’s fine for the level of pilot it’s intended for.

Overall the tips seem to be light. When I was not active enough in bumpy air, I got a small tiptuck, but the wing immediately sorted itself out. On another classic day with good spring thermic conditions, I had quite a few takeoffs and landings, and the Explorer handled beautifully. My landing timing is not always perfect but I found with the Explorer that I was able to feel what the glider was doing as I was coming in to land. I was really able to slow it down with the right timing; a nice glide in and a gentle touchdown. I’m not sure if it was wing or conditions, but I felt in control and positive, landing on a variety of positions around the hill. The steep walk back up seemed easy with the light glider over my shoulder.

Gin EXPLORER review: ground handling

During launching, I didn’t feel that it had a tendency to overshoot. It is a little bit more sporty than I’m used to. My previous wings were Skywalk Chili 3, Advance Iota, Nova Mentor 4, and Niviuk Ikuma: the Explorer feels like it’s a step up from those in pilot demands. Comparing it to other wings I’ve flown, I find it similar to the Advance SIGMA 9 (low EN C). If you are inexperienced or out of practice then a milder XC class wing might be more suitable if this is your first foray into the ‘high B’ territory.

I got away from the Dyke and went for my first XC of 2017. I had a range of thermals from weak to strong, got up to base and managed 43km. It was going into the thermaling turns really nicely and smoothly, with good energy: it wasn’t hooking in too much or diving into the turns. It always gave me a positive feeling, turning reasonably tightly and allowing me to get into the core. I tend to use outside brake all the time but I didn’t notice that it needed more than normal. I got a good feel for the energy of the wing. It needs to be flown actively.

Gin Explorer first impressions: in flight

Getting away from Devils Dyke. Photo by Mariusz Macias

I had a few little tip tucks in thermals, just the normal ‘roll in roll out’ movements that were no cause for concern. It felt as if it was pulling into thermals quite well, helping me find the thermals, giving me good feedback. It’s a big positive for me, but someone who doesn’t like feedback won’t enjoy the chattiness.

Despite that, I felt that I could let the brakes go and fiddle with my instruments, I felt comfortable enough that I could let the glider fly and sort itself out due to the passive safety and stability.

There were a couple of times when there were lots of people when I pushed more brake than normal to hook inside them and cut in. It never felt like it was going to spin, it responded nicely so I ended up using that extra bit of brake you don’t normally use from time to time. The Explorer is very manoeuvrable!

I used the speedbar, which is light with good feedback, and my speed seemed well matched with a Niviuk Artik 4 21 (60-73 kg) and Skywalk Chili 4 XS (70-95 kg). Overall, I did notice I was climbing well on the Explorer.

Gin Explorer first impressions

Gin EXPLORER: A Day Out Above Wales

Hay Bluff, light wind and some thermals coming through.

I reverse launched the wing with ease, it was enthusiastic but with a quick swift dab on the brakes we were set. I turned and ran through. I felt every bit of confidence with the easy launch, yes the wing is light, which is different, but with good technique it really is not difficult.

Getting up required tight S turns to get back up over the ledge enough to be able to do 360s. I could really get the wing around exactly where I wanted it to be, with the wing communicating where the lift was. I used deep brakes and had sharp swooping turns with lots of energy. It turns beautifully!

Gin EXPLORER review: Flying High

It was a challenging day with slow progress but very rewarding, and the views were awesome.

Getting low near the ridge I tried to suss out where the wind was coming from and if I was in lee or not. I had some spicy moments and I definitely did a horizon and wing check. The wing felt reassuring. It gave me confidence although I was in mixing air. The wing definitely had my full attention but at the same time offered enough responsiveness to work the best bit of the grotty air to get up!

Later I had to work a slope low and climbed in 0.3 m/s messy stuff. I held on until it turned into something better and then rode smooth lift up to 5,000ft. The Explorer and I had a glory glide to a lovely grassy, sunny field and I landed feeling very satisfied and rather knackered. I need to build up my XC stamina for summer!

Gin EXPLORER review: in the air

Gin EXPLORER: Summary

The Gin Explorer is certainly not dull! For me it has fun factor, the type of wing that suits my kind of piloting well. The wing being lighter gives a real benefit to the launch characteristics and the handling in flight; the weight and the smaller volume is such a bonus for packing and carrying! I felt confident on it, it was giving me good feedback and wasn’t too hot to handle. It’s a nice positive wing that feels sorted, everything feels nicely put together and well finished. The glider feels solid, agile and communicates well with me and my flying style.

Matching it to the higher bracket of B pilots, the Explorer is at the top of the XC class in terms of pilot demands. It has that EN B safety stamp, but has a feeling of being more similar to the next class up. Whereas we put the Carrera into the Sports class, the Explorer seems to fit in right at the top of the XC class. As such it is reserved for those pilots who are naturally talented or very current, and is probably not ideal as your first ‘high B’ wing. But for those with experience, it is a positive, balanced and confidence inspiring lightweight beauty.

Gin EXPLORER review: flight handling

Gin EXPLORER: Test conditions

Gin Explorer S (75-95kg) flown at 87kg with Advance Lightness 2 pod harness. Tested from January to April in southern England and Wales. I haven’t flown it in very strong wind, just moderate to light wind. We’ll continue to test the Explorer to learn more about its character.

Sites: soaring on coastal cliffs with moderate wind and gentle winter thermals, small hill soaring and thermaling with many flights, top landings and slope landings,  a classic spring cross country flight of 43km, and another thermic XC flight over the Welsh hills. Approximate airtime: 10 hours

Pilot: Nancy Elliott has 670 hours and a best distance of 124 km. She is a keen XC pilot (1st Woman, UK XC League 2015) and flies many wings  to gain expertise and fuel her passion as Co-Director at Flybubble.

Find out more about the Gin EXPLORER

Gin EXPLORER review: launch control

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